MAINE TALES. HEEDING GOOD ADVICE. BRIDGEWATER, MAINE. Circa 1979.
There’s no doubt, had he to do it all over again, the second time around he would do things differently. Experience is the father of wisdom.
Hauling a tractor-trailer load full of Maine Certified Seed Potatoes south from Aroostook County back to North Carolina probably seemed like it should be an easy, run of the mill trip. In order to avoid deadheading he likely hauled a load of something or other north to Boston. A truck broker had encouraged him to head on up to Northern Maine where there were hundreds of loads of Seed Potatoes waiting for a ride down to anxious Potato farmers in North Carolina and Virginia.
Heading north for the first time through that long, lonesome stretch of woods north of Bangor it is plausible he began to wonder what had he got himself into. But then in time, he would start seeing the trees thin out and he’d come across the snow-covered Potato fields and their farmsteads, and other minor signs of civilization.
After following his scrawled directions and landing in at the appointed Potato House the farmer, who had been expecting him, would have him back up his rig to the loading dock. The farmer would have explained it would take a couple hours for him and his crew to finish putting up the load of 50-pound-Potato bags, stacked fifty bags onto a pallet. Twenty pallets which would fill his 44-foot-long trailer. That same 50,000 pounds of Seed would be enough to plant 25-30 acres of Tablestock Potatoes for Americans hungry for New Potatoes come June.
Making use of the lag time, the truck driver would climb up into his cab and get a little shuteye before heading south. The farmer had promised he’d pound a wakeup bang on the cab door when the trailer was loaded.
Once the Certified Seed and business paperwork was sorted and stowed away, the driver would wind his way on side roads over to US Route 1, Aroostook County’s north-south artery. Then, beginning at Houlton, the newly-opened northernmost section of four-lane Interstate 95 would make driving south a relative breeze. With the need ahead to drive twenty hours, he could pull over to a rest stop in Connecticut to catch some sleep and then be home for supper after delivering the seed to the awaiting North Carolina farm.
But first he’d have to navigate Route 1. It is a quirk of New England roads that in late Winter they suddenly sprout seasonal obstacles locally known as “Frost Heaves.” New England, with its plenteous supply of water, clay soil and freezing temperatures allows residents to experience frost heaves, these formidable frozen abrupt rises in the roadway. It is easy to imagine that our frost heaves became the inspiration behind engineered “speed bumps” strategically placed to slow-down hasty drivers in front of busy stores and entrances to National Parks.
One of the more notorious and recognizable frost heaves in all of Northern Maine is on Route 1 in our fair farming town of Bridgewater. Not to brag, but reliably in the Cedar swamp north of Bunker Hill, all the constituent elements come together flawlessly in late Winter for our blue-ribbon frost heave, achieving unrivaled attention from those heading southbound.
Now, spying a big hill ahead, one common trick of truck drivers hauling a heavy load is to gain valuable momentum by speeding up on flat ground while the going is good. Sadly, this tactic functions in opposition to the northern world of frost heaves. However, if you are from North Carolina and have never experienced – or even heard of – a frost heave, you might be forgiven for being oblivious to the phenomenon which causes the Maine DOT to unceremoniously place a temporary, terse, understated International Orange sign at the exact point of impact.
Hitting a frost heave at high speed can cause a truck’s cargo to go airborne. Truck frames are made from aluminum and engineered to meet load requirements, as opposed to frost heave requirements. Adding additional frame thickness would mean extra weight which equates to lower fuel mileage which will add up after a million miles. The problem comes not with the load going airborne. The real problem is when the law of gravity kicks in with determination to bring those goods back to terra firma in a big hurry. Shocked, eighteen-wheeler aluminum frames simply become overpowered by the effects of gravity. The result is one massive mess and the sudden grasp that you’ll be late for supper.
It’s hard to think of anything more discouraging than having to finger off a thousand roughed-up bags of Potatoes from a truck with a busted up frame…unless it might be stooping over and hand-picking rocks from a Potato field during a rare 90ºF heat wave in June when the Blackflys are thick enough to carry you away. That job having to do with Maine rocks we have experience with.
Caleb, Jim & Megan